What is parental alienation?

Lucy Whittaker
Lucy Whittaker

Published: October 3rd, 2023

7 min read

Whilst there is no legal definition of parental alienation in the UK, it can be established as one parent implementing tactics to distance a child, from the other parent. Parental alienation is often recognised if the child becomes detached or unusually hostile towards a parent, this being a result of manipulation from the other parent.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), describe parental alienation as:

"…when a child's resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent."

This manipulation exhibited by a parent can occur in many such as:

  • Promoting a child's disrespectful or defiant behaviour towards the other parent.

  • Discussing negative issues about the other parent with the child and making up damaging accusations. This confusing and altering the child's thoughts and feelings about the other parent.

  • Manipulating the child making them believe that the other parent is untrustworthy or even dangerous.

What you should look out for if you suspect alienation

Whilst there is no strict formula to spot the signs of parental alienation there are some behaviours you should look out for including (not limited to):

  • A parent being continually and unfairly criticised by the child, will no justification for this behaviour.

  • The child displaying a false or illogical reasoning behind their behaviour towards a parent, often seeming as though they have been programmed into this way of thinking.

  • The child using adult language or referring to event they had not seen or ever even happened.

  • No guilt or remorse displayed by the child for their behaviour and the mistreatment of the alienated parent.

  • The child displaying all negative feelings towards a parent and supporting the other parent fully. This sometimes extends to other members of the alienated parent's family or friends.

The Family Court

The Court can assist in relation to allegations of parental alienation and work can be done with the family to alleviate the risks of parental alienation. The work will be centred around building parents' relationships with each other and the child. The child's welfare will always be paramount. If there are severe safeguarding issues involving the parental alienation, the Local Authority may look to issue Care Proceedings.

However, the Court must consider all the circumstances in relation to alleged parental alienation due to the serious nature of the same. A report by the Ministry of Justice in 2020 found: "Fears of false allegations of parental alienation are clearly a barrier to victims of abuse telling the courts about their experiences."

Additionally, there is still much debate in relation to investigating parental alienation within Court proceedings. The instruction of experts in proceedings has been met with conflicting opinions among medical and psychological professionals as to whether the behaviour of alienation constitutes a syndrome, often referred to as Parental Alienation Syndrome. Additionally, in October 2020, Sir Andrew McFarlane (the president of the Family Division) stated that the Court must be cautious in relation to the appointment of experts in these types of cases and only individual experts with relevant expertise should be considered. Obviously, this creates issues due to the few experts available.

Clearly, parental alienation causes distress and upset for the child involved which may constitute emotional abuse. Therefore, if a parent is found by the Court to be exhibiting patterns of parental alienation, this could result in a change of residence of the child.

What You Should Do Now

If parental alienation goes unchallenged, it could result in a full breakdown of the relationship and potentially one parent being completely excluded from a child's life.

If you feel that your child has been subject to parental alienation, get in touch as soon as possible.

For further information please contact Lucy Whittaker

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